Based on the book by Christopher Buckley, the cellular version of Thank You for Smoking may be misconceived by some as a movie about a guy who’s defending smoking, but I think it is a movie about a couple of different things. The first, more obvious things is that it’s a movie about spin. Either in the early ‘90s (when the book came out) or in the last year or so (when the film came out), even if the setting has changed, the method of dispelling one’s argument, even without possessing any co…crete facts, and how important it is in American debate is still a clear message.
But the other message that comes across when you watch the film is that even though spin is a reprehensible thing, it’s not limited to one side or another. When Senator Finistirre (William H. Macy, Fargo) is trying to help reduce (or even eliminate) smoking, he’s using means that will attract the public to the message, and does what he can do to spin it as well. As tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor, Aaron Eckhart (Payback) is a man who will play fast and loose with the facts, but feels that he needs to do it for the sake of winning an argument, something that he very much enjoys. The fact that he says some of the things he does in this movie without laughing at the mere audacity of them is an accomplishment, to tell you the truth.
Adapted for the screen and directed by Jason Reitman (son of Canadian comic movie icon Ivan), Thank You for Smoking is full of much of the same eviscerating humor that made the book enjoyable, however there are some scenes that tried to show themselves off as being perhaps a little bit too smart for the room. And I think one of the things that might not completely sell some fans of the book is that the film takes a bit of a turn by exploring Nick’s relationship with his son Joey (Cameron Bright, Godsend). It almost gives the third act too much of a feel-good ending.
With that said, Thank You for Smoking has a lot of recognizable faces in it that all do a great job with the material, and in his first feature film, Reitman does great justice to the book, and in these times of a message being so spun and sold, the film is a lot more relevant than many of the conspicuously political films that have recently been released, and it’s worth watching regardless of ideology.
The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen that the film has is clear as a bell, but comes across as a little bit blown out on the whites and the image looks a tiny bit soft. Perhaps it’s a choice of style, but this could have been better than anticipated.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is pretty dialogue driven, and while things do sound clear, it’s a little bit muted overall, and you’re forced to crank things up a little bit.
Hey, two commentary tracks, cool! The first track is a solo effort by Reitman. Reitman recalls how he managed to pull the film together from script to finished product. He really enjoys watching the movie and recalls specific shots, and while his track is pretty quiet, there’s some information that’s worth gleaning from this track. The second commentary is with Reitman, Eckhart and Koechner. I don’t think that Koechner is even introduced, but he serves as the conversation catalyst and comic foil for the two, even as Eckhart is soft-spoken. They ID actors or guest stars as they go, but sometimes the mutual admiration society does get kind of sarcastic. All in all it’s a fun track with everyone, there are some production details that are discussed, but it doesn’t contribute to the enjoyment of the movie. Following that are 13 deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary that are just as funny and should have been left in, to tell you the truth, including one where Nick slapped a cigarette from Joey’s mouth, and another that draws a more distinct line between Finistirre and news reporter Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes, Batman Begins). From there, an episode of “The Charlie Rose Show” with Reitman, Eckhart, Buckley and producer David Sacks, and they get to share their thoughts on getting the movie made and how everyone came to it. Buckley talks about the interest for writing a book like that, and everyone talks about what they thought of the book too. It seems like this piece may be a little bit edited, but there’s not too much that is contributed on this one. The making of featurette appears to be the usual EPK of sorts, with the requisite interviews from the cast and crew as well, and is pretty topical, except for a part that is a pretty good jab at the “spin” involved with smoking, pro or con, which leads into a separate featurette may be “America: Living in Spin”, which talks about how contagious spin is in America and includes clips of past and present politicians. I wish it would have been longer, but you take what you can get. Wrapping things up are a group of stills galleries, the trailer, and a promo spot for the soundtrack.
Thank You for Smoking remains one of the better, smarter and funnier films of recent times that didn’t include Sacha Baron Cohen in it. The performances are capable, the material is hilarious, and the film revels in what it does to skewer the fallacy of debate today. Definitely worth checking out as a rental, with a buy for fans of the book.
Special Features List
- Director Commentary
- Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
- Making of Featurette
- Interview Footage